Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release that...

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release that the sentencing of two men in a massive mail fraud scheme was “an important step in delivering justice for the thousands of victims." Credit: AP/Jose Luis Magana

Two Plainview men who conned thousands of victims out of more than $90 million by falsely claiming they won cash prizes were sentenced to prison Wednesday and ordered to forfeit millions of dollars, according to federal officials.

Sean Novis, 53, and Gary Denkberg, 59, were convicted last year by a federal jury for their roles in the mass mailing fraud schemes that targeted the elderly, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack sentenced Novis to 7½ years in prison and Denkberg to 5½ years during a proceeding at the Alfonse M. D'Amato U.S. Courthouse in Central Islip. The judge also ordered Novis to forfeit $60 million and Denkberg to forfeit $19 million.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release that the sentencing was “an important step in delivering justice for the thousands of victims.” The Justice Department is accelerating efforts to investigate scams targeting seniors, the statement said.

The defendants’ scheme spanned more than a decade from January 2003 to September 2016. They mailed millions of prize notices to unsuspecting victims who were directed to pay a small fee to unlock their large cash prize, officials said.

Those who paid the fee never received a prize.

Novis' Garden City-based attorney, James Druker, maintained his client's innocence. He said Novis was not in the sweepstakes business, but rather sold booklets of sweepstakes information for $29.95.

"The supposed 'victims' who thought that they had won a million dollar sweepstakes failed to read the clear language that told them multiple times that they had not won anything," Druker wrote in an email. "In fact, of the millions of recipients, the prosecutors were only able to produce two at trial who claimed to have been victimized."

Druker said he would appeal.

The duo mass-produced boilerplate documents that were bulk mailed to recipients whose names and addresses were on mailing lists, officials said. The notices had the appearance of personalized correspondence.

A multiyear investigation conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service resulted in the duo’s arrest in 2020.

“Today’s sentence clearly demonstrates that defrauding Americans has serious consequences,” Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said in a statement.

Both men were convicted in May 2022 on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, fraudulent use of fictitious names and aiding and abetting other mail fraud schemes, according to officials.

Trial evidence showed Novis and Denkberg operated their scheme in violation of U.S. Postal Service cease-and-desist agreements and consent orders they had agreed to in 2012, according to officials. Those agreements and orders had permanently barred them from mailing fraudulent prize notices.

Denkberg's Garden City-based attorney, Stephen Scaring, said the 2012 agreement, which was negotiated with postal authorities, permitted the men to continue operating. He said in 2016 federal authorities "went for a big splash" and issued the cease-and-desist, at which point his client said he ended the business.

"Four years later, without even any notice, they get indicted," Scaring said. "Obviously the government wants to make a point. They want to put mail-order businesses out of business."

He said the defendants relied on attorneys over 13 years to assure them that the business was legal.

"Juries hate mail solicitation so it was very hard to get a jury to be objective about it," he said.

They each faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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